My older son came home from college last weekend, and after the customary greetings and probing questions about his grades — "I got this," he always says — came a request.
"Oh, yeah, take your shirt off and let me see it," I said.
Right there, just below his right shoulder blade, an image jumped off his back and made its first impression on an old man who has never inked up, thought about inking up or will ever ink up.
Yes, my son got a tattoo.
It's been interesting to sort through my feelings and gauge the reaction of my parental friends. Like me, they remain stuck in 20th century conservatism and can't embrace or understand the fascination with "tatting up."
One friend said I should go get one of my son's old toys he no longer treasures and emphatically jar his memory.
Remember when you thought you couldn't live without this? Remember when you insisted we buy this? Now it's gathering dust and headed for the bargain bin at Goodwill. But you can't take a tattoo to Goodwill. It's there forever.
Several folks asked if I let him do it.
Let him? He's 20. Matthew is an adult, and my wife and I always raised him to make his own decisions when he became a man. The idea of trying to stop him or punishing him if he did it without our permission never crossed our minds.
You have to hope 18 years of trying to instill trust, guidance and common sense had some impact.
He did call and tell us — warn us — that he was going to get a tattoo. In fact, he spent most of the summer softening any potential disappointment.
In exchange, and out of gratitude for his notice, we simply offered some advice: Find a clean and reputable shop, be sober, put it in a place that can be covered when you go for a job interview, get something meaningful and one more pearl of wisdom:
Pay for it yourself.
• • •
In the final analysis, I wonder if it's me and not my son who is out of step with rest of the world. I told one friend and she just shrugged, showed me her tattoo and reminded me that her 20-something daughter has more than one.
Plus, you see them everywhere. Old, young, black, white — everyone seems to have them. Heck, even my older brother and younger sister have tattoos.
Would it be difficult for him to get a job if he got a tattoo in a visible place? A T-shirt I spotted at the mall summed it up: Tattooed And Employed.
Still, I struggle to understand why people feel compelled to get a tattoo. They say they want to express their feelings, who they are, what they're about. Perhaps, because I get the blessed opportunity to express myself through my job, I don't feel the need to put a peacock on my shoulder.
Perhaps I can't forget that there was once a tattoo shop in my neighborhood called the Evil Needle.
Perhaps I'm just an old fart.
But for now, I'm going to live with the turtle-shaped tattoo God put on my back at birth and leave it at that.
And I'm going to live with the choice my son made. For most of his life, I've told him to be his own man, march to his own beat. With a pterodactyl, yes, a flying dinosaur, now tattooed on his back, he's doing what I suggested.
Hey, it's different.
He says dinosaurs come from the past, are revered today and will be revered in the future. That's what he wants for his own life.
Fly on, son. Fly on.
That's all I'm saying.